First things first, I am not a travel-a-phobe. I have watched through the hands covering my eyes the warzone of the traffic system in Istanbul, where, if you remain within it long enough, you will fall shamelessly at the feet of the nearest diety just to make it all end. However, in spite of these priggish claims to being some sort of EU constrained Phileas Fogg, there is one zone of travel that continues to baffle me. A place where light has been banished, stench is incubated and a some truly remarkable behavior is exhibited. Of course I am talking about England’s national treasure: the London Underground.
The most common observation regarding the Tube is that it is a vacuum of conversation. I don’t know if it is because, for noobs, the crushing stress of getting on the right line renders people incapable of forming words. Or, because nobody else does it the unitiated obediently conform to fit in with the ‘locals’. I do it for the latter by the way. It is almost as if Boris is patrolling the carriages of the London underground in an invisibility cloak threatening anyone who breaks this sacred silence. Was the tube a place of friendly conversation in the past, or has it been like this since its conception? Do Londoners start talking when tourists are off the train just to mess with outsiders? My only reasonable explanation is that one day someone was cheerfully telling a ‘your mum’ joke to the whole carraige and went too far, in doing so, creating such an uncomfortable silence that it has been passed down to every generation of tube users ever since.
Every time I use the tube there is always a select group of people, so intent on getting on the carraige, that they show absolutely no regard for their own life – much to my amusement/horror. I personally am not a risk taker. When I was last on the tube my timing was impeccable, with time on my hands I nonchalantly strolled through the doors with such a drippingly smug look on my face, quite frankly I am surprised nobody remedied it with a slap. Anyway, I was proudly sitting in a seat, doing my post-boarding checks: correct line, yes. Correct direction, yes. Luggage in a vice like grip between my legs, check. The doors were about to close, people braced themselves and everyone powered down into silent mode. Suddenly. Out of nowhere, some madwomen clearly intent on joining us came charging across the platform. A look steely determination mixed with uncertainty etched across her increasingly reddening face. Stimulated by this drama, tube passengers around me snapped out of standby mode. The doors began to close. Surely not we all thought. The carriage was unified in excitement. Would she be cruelly sliced in half by the tube doors like some unfortunate Bond villain, or would she make it? To this day I cannot work out how this women made it. I felt a cheer was in order and then I remembered where I was.
Would she be cruelly sliced in half like some unfortunate Bond villain, or would she make it?
This unique combination of human fortitude and an impatient door closing system makes for ready entertainment. However, this is all I enjoy about the whole experience. My biggest gripe is with myself. I like many of the unenlightened aspire to have the wisdom of the oyster card bearing residents of London – or at least appear to. This pathetic yearning for acceptance often comes at the cost of a care-free trip across London. As far as I am aware I do not have a disorder, the level of preparation and route planning prior to any Tube based journey would suggest otherwise. This dependence on pre-planning comes a cropper with even the most minor alteration to my journey. A reasonable person would ask for help perhaps? Well no actually, for the wannabe Tube pros, as soon as you descend into the caverns of the underground you lose any sort of rational thinking. I am reasonably confident that if there was to be an apocalyptic event affecting the Tube, whereby the only means of escape was to catch an alternative line to safety, that I would stand paralyzed with fear yet resolutely pig-headed as everyone around me calmly walked off to some unknown platform. I would probably continue to do this until the first Zombie / 2012-esque ball of lava devoured me.